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What I Did on My Summer Vacation in October

or

Someone Painted the Pig’s Balls Blue

By David Allen

Prelude: 

            The paycheck stub
            says use or lose
            so, I choose
            vacation —
            V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N
            This is how it went.

 Day One:

            I read poems
          and the earth moves.
            Miles below us
            the earth rocks —
            no connection.
            “The crowd was
            pretty silent,” I say,
            returning to my seat.
            “We were all wondering
            whether to run,” Ruth
            Ellen answers.
            Again, no connection.

 Day Two:

             Sunday
            rain followed by rain
            with a little more rain,
            a drowsy, kind of
            sleep in day to make
             the transition to vacation.
            Pizza Man,
            up to his ankles in water
            braving the flood
            delivering the meatrageous.
            Diets be damned,
            we’re on vacation!
 
Day Three: 

            Rain at dawn;
            what a surprise!
            It rains cats and dogs,
            fish and frogs;
            it pours in buckets,
            falls straight in sheets,
            it rains blankets —
            hell, it rains the whole damn mattress.
            We shop for last
            minute things and buy
           what impulse brings.
 
Day Four: 

            Off for the fair shores of Okuma,
            North island mountains,
            sandy seashore. We’re off
            to bathe ourselves in sunshine.
            But first, we must survive the rain.
            It rains so hard
            we can’t  tell sea from sky
            and the road is a river
            of water looking
            for an open drain.
            Kadena Circle is a fog of spray
            cars fishtail, wipers
            futilely beat at the rain
            slapping time to
            a Buffett refrain.
            At the Kina slaughterhouse
            and restaurant someone
            painted the pig’s balls blue.
            An omen, ‘cause just outside
            of Nago the blue sky
            breaks through.
            Mountains steamy,
            wisps of clouds play
            in and out the window
            through the folds.
            Salvador Dali slopes,
            cement slabs slide
            down the mountainside —
            no falling rocks here.

 
            The road narrows,
            double lanes hug the coast.
            Shioya Bridge, it pleases me
            to drive through your bright red arches
            before your featureless brother
            takes your place.
 

            And then — Okuma!
            “No bottled beverages
            allowed in this facility.”
            Quick, hide
            the long-necked Becks.
 

            Ruth Ellen, trusted
            navigator, willing scribe,
            says the poem’s taking
            epic proportions:
 

                        By the shores of great Okuma
                        I bit deep into my burger,
                        burger smothered rich with mushrooms
                        covered with a coat of cheese.
                        I bit deep into my burger
                        and let out a moan of pleasure,
                        startling my lunch companion
                        she said, “Well, I see you’re pleased.
                        You never moan so loud when we’re together
                        doing the dance of mare and stallion;
                        (Oh, the pickle and the onion)
                        No, you never moan so loud
                        on the nights we roll in bed.”
                        I could only nod my head,
                        for I was no Indian brave,
                        and it was the Cheeseburger in Paradise
                        that I had craved
                        since before the trip began.
 
Day Five: 

            Inaccuweather calls for
            scattered showers
            interrupted by torrents.
            During a sun break, we
            try snorkeling, but
            Mother Ocean’s strong current
            threatens to carry us away.
            “Not yet, not today!”
            we shout, as we leave Robinson Crusoe
            footprints in the sand.
            “There’s adventure ahead.
            We’re on vacation, dammit!”

 
            The way to beat the clouds
            is to drive into them.
            Cross Highway 58,
            past the turnoff to Higa Falls,
            and up, up, up
            the snaking mountain road
            that twists and turns
            like a woman’s body,
            caressing the curves,
            finessing them with convex
            mirrors, we drive through
            the clouds forming
            in the valleys below.
 
            Mile, after mile
            and not another soul.
            At spots the jungle threatens
             to reclaim the road,
            eliminate all trace of the
            concrete ribbon rising
            up, up, up
            and around and down
            and up again.
            A little traveled trail,
            a patchy asphalt one-lane
            almost-path branches
            off, beckons.
            Dare we take it?
            Dare we not?
 

            Our Honda Shuttle
            was not made for such
            adventure, but handles
            well the trail, so unused
            that at parts vast spider
            webs — spider condos —
            block our passage.
            Rain droplets, like diamonds,
            hang from the silk.
            Ruth Ellen gently
            brushes them aside
            with a big stick.
            Hard work,
            the intricate webs
            are strongly anchored
            and she is sprung back
            a few attempts
            before she clears a path.
            “I didn’t want to ruin
            such art,” she says
            as we roll onward,
            ever upward, under
            the canopy of trees.
 

            Suddenly, bright yellow posts
            mark the edge of the trail.
            “USMC,” they are stamped.
            We wonder what that means.
            But no one said “Keep Out.”
            So we continue our climb.
            Beside us, steep drops
            down the rocky, jungle slopes.
            We stop and stand at the edge
             and all we see is a
            carpet of green, mile after
             mile of mountain,
                        inviting,
                                    embracing,
                                                nurturing.
            We stand, and with
             upraised arms we shout,
            “Top O’ the world, Ma!
                        Top O’ the World!”
 
            The trail ends abruptly,
            an anticlimax at
            a barbwired U.S.
            Army enclosure,
            a microwave tower,
            concrete and steel
            monstrosity, way out
            of place here in Heaven.
 
            Reluctantly, we turn and trek
            back down the trail
            of the banana spiders.
            On the main road,
            on a rare straight stretch,
            a sign in kanji and English shouts:
             “Speed Down!”
            Of course!
            Speed down!
            There is no incessant voice
            from Tokyo, some editor
            demanding 10 more inches
            of copy in 15 minutes.
            There’s no newshole
            for the newswhores to fill.
            Speed Down! and smell the —
            well, hibiscus and pineapple
            will have to substitute for the
            fabled roses.
            Speed Down!
            and smell the ocean.
            “Speed Down!” it shouts,
            (“You’re on vacation.”)

 
Day Six:

            A bad body day means spending the time
            inside, reading to my soulmate as she
            fights the phantom pain the disease insists
            is the price for a few pain-less, or rather
            less pain-filled days.
                        (Pain and fatigue play
                        their game upon the field
                        that is her body;
                        sometimes, like soccer,
                        scoreless, some sweet succor,
                        sometimes running up the score.
                        They are in double digits today.)

 
            Yet, she still serves me a grimace
            with a smile chaser as I
            read her to sleep —
            e.e.cummings’
            “I six nonlectures,”
            A book borrowed from
            a new young poet friend
            just discovering his muse
            (how I envy the paths he has yet to tread,
            the poems and books yet to be read).
 
            And in the reading,
‘           while she dozes and wakes,
            drifts in and out of painfullness
            I discover cummings’
            nonlecture on what
            a poet is:
 

                        “If you wish to follow
                        even at a distance,                
                        the poet’s calling…
                        you’ve got to come out
                        of the measurable doing universe
                        into the unmeasurable house of being.
                        If poetry is your goal
                        you’ve got to forget
                        all about punishments and
                        all about rewards and
                        all about selfstyled obligations
                        and duties and responsibilities
                        etcetra ad infinitum
                        and remember one thing only —
                        that it’s you, nobody else, who
                        determines your destiny and decides your fate.
                        Nobody else can live for you,
                        nor can you live for anyone else.”

 
            And so, I read to my wife,
            my muse, my partner in
            life’s discourse and spend
            the most pleasurable day
            of my vacation.

 
            At night, dinner with a sunset for dessert.
            The thing I like about sunsets best
            is, just as the leading lady leaves the stage,
            the whole sky explodes in colorfullness,
            an ovation for another day well done.
            My love loves best
            this dimming of the day
            when all cares and pain
            like butter melt away
            and, like an old friend,
            the night comes to cloak our nakedness
            with a fine silk robe.

  

Day Seven:
 
            On the Seventh Day I wish
            I could say we rested,
            but instead we drove
            as the sun shone strong
            back home to where our worries
            and cares waited, pouting children
            mad we didn’t take them along.
 

Okuma, Okinawa

October 1998

 

This is a poem from my first book of poetry, “The Story So Far,” available on Amazon.com.

           

USMC-M-Okinawa-OFC

Seventy years ago this week the last and bloodiest land battle in the Pacific during World War II began. Twenty years ago I was the Okinawa News Bureau Chief for Stars and Stripes and was allowed to cover the three months of reunions and ceremonies any way I wanted. Here’s one of my best stories during that period. The news piece read like a poem and here it is, unchanged except translating it into poetic form.

THE NAMES
By David Allen

George Allen White Jr.,
Edward Lewis White,
James White

Names,
American Marines who died on Okinawa.
These names are read in June,
in April the names were soldiers,
May was for sailors.

Names
every day.

On April 1,
the reading of the names began
to commemorate
April fool’s Day,
Easter Sunday,
Love Day,
the day the Americans invaded Okinawa,
struck back on Japan’s home soil
in 1945.

Every day
for an hour at lunch
and in the evening
they came to read the names
at a church high on a hill
overlooking the invasion beaches.
A church with American and Japanese parishioners,
with a Japanese-Canadian priest,
who spent his war in a cold Saskatchewan internment camp.
Every day
they come to
All Souls Episcopal Church
to read the names of the souls
lost.

James Preston White,
James Thomas White,
Jerry Wilson White.

They are coming to the end.
Eighty-three days,
each day of the battle.
Returning veterans,
some with wives and grown children,
sit in the back of the chapel.
Silent.
Respectful.

Thousands of names.
12,281 Americans,
110,000 Japanese soldiers and Okinawan conscripts,
More than 150,000 Okinawa civilians.

Logan Willard White Jr.,
Thomas George White,
Charles Edward Whiteman.

Each name another soldier,
sailor, aviator, civilian
killed in the carnage that was
the Battle of Okinawa.

Listen –

James Richard Whiteman,
Mark Edward Whiteman,
Forrest Whitt,
Joseph Henry Whitaker.

Whisper them softly,
fall into the rhythm.
it’s a Jewish Kaddish,
a Buddhist chant,
a Christian prayer.
Meditate.

Joseph Henry Whittaker,
Marvin Jones Wiggins,
William Robert Wiggins.

Name after name.
Each man some mother’s son,
some father’s pride.
this one the class clown;
that one the brain.

Some were orphans,
no family except their platoon
or shipmates.
That guy was a Gary steelworker,
and wasn’t little Jimmy Whit
the mechanic down at the corner garage?

And what of the names read
on other days?

David Bond,
Earl Graham,
Ernie Pyle.

Wait, that one’s familiar.

Pyle, a newspaperman,
he wrote about these people,
always making sure he got the names right.
Thousands of names for the readers back home,
’til a Japanese sniper reaped his name
for the book of the fallen.

All-American names
like,
Howard S. Schwartz,
Louis Odachowski,
Kazuyoshi Inouye.

Some of the veterans are uneasy
on the wooden church pews,
it’s hard to sit through.
The reader’s voice is hoarse,
so many names.

Robert Wiggins,
Gray Huntley Whitman,
Hugh Whittington.

So many names.
Names inscribed on a striking monument
on Mabuni Hill, where the Japanese Army
made its last stand.
The Cornerstones of Peace,
the names of the dead from all the countries,
carved into 1,200 black granite walls,
stretching to the sea
like the wings of doves.

Donald James Wilton,
Kenneth William Wilkins,
Jack Williard.

The American list is over for the day.
the veterans leave,
handkerchiefs pat at moist eyes.
Few remain in the chapel
as a new reader sits at the table.
She begins to read.

Sato Yoshiro,
Yasuoka Tomohiko,
Murakami Minoru.

More names.
These are Japanese,
a college conscript from Tokyo,
a farmer from Hokkaido.
soldiers in the Emperor’s Army on Okinawa
when the Americans came with their
Typhoon of Steel.

Pak Man-do,
Chou Che-jiu,
Song Yong.

Korean names,
forced laborers,
comfort women.

Masahiro Kohagura,
Masao Ota,
Kiyo Yamashiro…

Okinawa names,
Page after page.
It sometimes takes 10 minutes
to read the day’s American names,
maybe 25 minutes for the Japanese,
much longer for the Okinawans.
That name belonged to a fisherman from Kin.
And wasn’t that the name of the mother from Itoman
who huddled in fear
at the rear of a deep cave with her two children,
shivering with fright as death came calling,
collecting his names?

Grandfathers,
babies,
teenage girls pressed into service to tend
the wounded.
Whole families of names,
each a sad reminder of War’s toll;
each name a testament.
To what?

Life.
This person once lived.
“I existed,
I had a name,
I was somebody.”

Read our names,
remember us.

6025

This photo is called “Girl with the White Flag.” It was taken by a GI as a tunnel filled with civilians was cleared. The Survived. Many more did not.

This poem is included in my first book, “The Story So Far,” published by Writers Ink Press (New York) , copyright 2004 and available on Amazon.com. Or get a signed copy by  emailing me at david@davidallen.nu.